Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Found a peanut.

As I've mentioned before, I find cool stuff and sell it on ebay. And I mail a whole lot of breakable stuff, so the triad of packing materials is important to me: bubble wrap, packing peanuts and boxes.

It really cuts into my profit margin when I actually have to pay for packing materials. Bubble wrap's expensive, but the cost of packing peanuts is outrageous. One bag of packing peanuts the size of a king-sized pillowcase can cost $10 to $15.

So I scrounge. Before my current packing materials coup, which I'll explain in a minute, I'd drive by the loading dock of my local Wild Oats (aka Whole Foods) like a stalker. I'd asked the shipping and receiving folks if, in the spirit of recycling, they could bag up their packing peanuts and set them out on the loading dock.

My little Wild Oats gradually withered, as super-sized Whole Foods stores sprung up throughout the city. My source of nuts died, too.

Or did it?

There's a happy ending to the packing peanut conundrum - a new, huge Whole Foods opened a mile or two away.

So a new relationship has been established, at a cavernous store that generates a constant stream of nuts.

Problem solved, but the frustrating periods when supply didn't match up with demand got me thinking.

If everyone who received packing peanuts in the mail kept them and resent them, would our world eventually no longer need to produce peanuts at all?

I'm no scientist or math genius, but I think we'd need to produce a whole lot less of those puffy styrofoam bits if people just passed them along to the next guy.

Using things more than once is a good thing.

And I recently learned that industrious folks all around the world benefit from items we think are worthy of the dumpster.

Apparently it works like this: You no longer like a shirt that's in your closet. You give it to Goodwill or Salvation Army or some other thrifty place. They try to sell the shirt, but no one buys it.

The thrift store's gotta move the merch. So it takes your shirt and tons of other stuff, and the thrift store in turn sell those items by the pound. Those buyers fill big containers compressed with tons of American thrift store discards and ship it to destinations all over the world.

Who knew your shirt, or Whole Foods packing peanuts, had such a butterfly effect? A 2007 article from the Seattle Times noted that, between 1999 and 2003, the U.S. exported nearly 7 billion pounds of used clothing and worn textiles. Items that would have wound up in a landfill.

Or packing peanuts that would have been tossed in the trash.

Almost everything has value to someone, somewhere.

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